Living with the Samsung Galaxy S6: In-depth camera review

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

A month ago, I was entrusted with our resident Samsung Galaxy S6 and told to live with it. I have been doing just that for the past month or so, just like I did with its predecessor — the Galaxy S5 — a year ago. Why? It's simple: When you're forced to live with a smartphone, you tend to discover stuff about it that aren't immediately apparent. That is, getting to really know Samsung's 2015 flagship takes time, just like it does with any of its competitors.

In my last update, I focused on the proprietary TouchWiz interface of the Galaxy S6, and how much it has changed. It's more minimalist than before, uncluttered to a degree, and faster than ever. I've never been a fan of TouchWiz, I admit it, but the S6 finally won me over — I can stomach the few inconsistencies, and do enjoy most of the features it brings to the table. I can't stress how much of a leap forward that is for Samsung in my view.

In any case, for today's episode I'll be focusing on another part of the new TouchWiz experience, but one that is just as much hardware-bound as it is software: the camera. Samsung has re-done the entire interface here, and the TouchWiz camera app of old is gone. The gear on the back is also more impressive than before, positioning the Galaxy S6 as one of the best (if not the best) camera phones currently on the market. 

Let's dig in.

Catering to both worlds


If my detailed Galaxy S6 display review wasn't enough to convince you, then the new Camera app of the Galaxy S6 certainly will: Samsung is switching gears, and is now working on bringing the best of both worlds to TouchWiz. That is, just like the display modes of the S6 will appeal both to calibration nuts and AMOLED junkies, so is the Camera app designed with both advanced and novice users in mind.


To illustrate this point, all I need to do is show you a few screenshots of the camera interface as it looks by default. We've got minimal clutter, as only essential controls and switches are available — like flash, HDR, countdown timers, and effects — and they can all be hidden from sight with a single tap. It's a well laid out UI and it's comfortable to use both in portrait and landscape.

The massive, laggy Settings menu of old is gone too, and good riddance. We now have a more Android Lollipop-like menu, with no distracting icons that had you guess before figuring out that you could simply read the label — not that that helped amateur users much. In any case, we've got the usual suspects as far as options go: Picture size (16MP, 16:9 being default), Video size (UHD 4K tops), location tags, an option to enable grid lines, and another to enable reviewing of pictures immediately after they were captured. That's not all, however.

Tracking AF


Tracking AF is a new feature, currently exclusive to the Galaxy S6. When enabled, it allows you to set auto focus so that it follows a moving object effortlessly. I — and as far as I know any other author at PhoneArena — haven't yet had an opening begging for Tracking AF, so I consider this mostly for shows. I'm sure some of you might think differently.

Video stabilization


The Video stabilization option is one that I suspect will confuse a lot of people, and contribute to a lot of crappy clips taken on the Galaxy S6's otherwise very good camcorder. After all, it sounds like a good idea — who doesn't want their video to be stabilized, right? Unfortunately, this setting has nothing to do with the optical stabilization gizmo on the Galaxy S6 — it's all software, as Samsung veterans will likely know.

What it does is fairly simple to explain. Essentially, with video stabilization on, the Galaxy S6 will not capture at its full resolution, leaving the extra pixels around its new field of view as a sort of buffer — they're there to ensure that if the footage becomes shaky, the software can use them to create the impression of less shaky footage. It works fine, but quality drops, and you're obviously getting a lower resolution video. Honestly, you're better off with this particular feature turned off — forever.

Quick Launch, Voice control, and Volume keys function


The trio of options at the bottom are all easy to grasp, so I'll get them out of the way in one go. 

Starting with Quick Launch, which is enabled by default, it's basically a shortcut that allows you to fire up the camera by double clicking the physical Home button twice in a row. It works at all times, regardless of what you're doing — even if you're gaming, you can still quickly summon the camera and take a shot. I won't lie, I'm absolutely in love with this feature, and this is only way I launch the camera now — I don't even have an icon for it on my home screens.

Moving on to Voice control, the feature enables a set of spoken triggers that could make it easier for some to take pictures and video. For example, "Capture!", "Smile!", "Cheese!", and "Shoot!" will all tell the Galaxy S6 to instantly snap a photo (it works really fast), while "Record video" will... well, start video recording.

Lastly, Volume keys function I found quite handy — it lets you assign an action to your volume key. By default, it's set to just take a picture (very useful for selfies), but you can switch it so that it starts recording video or zooms in and out.

The shooting modes illusion


If there's one thing the TouchWiz camera is well known for, it is its abundance of shooting modes, both standard and wild. With the Galaxy S6, however, Samsung hardliners may find themselves initially shocked, as most of these appear to be gone — a byproduct of Samsung's new focus on simplicity.


Indeed, by default, the number of modes available is limited to "just" 7, but breathe easy, for an additional 8 (or 15 in total) can be downloaded off the Galaxy Apps store. Most of them are remnants from the feature-heavy TouchWiz era, but a few have actually changed, and not always for the better.

Pro


Ostensibly, the Pro mode is by far the most significant new addition to the stack, for it allows you to fine tune controls like metering, ISO, exposure, white balance, and even manually tweak focus. Unlike more robust manual modes in competing cameras, however, the Galaxy S6 still doesn't feature shutter speed controls. Quite frankly, all of the above features, save for focus controls, are available with older Galaxy flagships. Seeing as how, in my experience, macro focus is hardly superior to just letting the software do its thing automatically, I can't really say I'm at all impressed. 

It's a new mode, but it really doesn't bring anything new to the table.

Selective Focus


Selective Focus was first made available on the Galaxy S5, but after an identity crisis, decided that it isn't, after all, what it initially set out to be: a dedicated mode to apply bokeh effect to images. Nowadays, Selective Focus is a different kind of animal, allowing you to instead pick focus post-capture — you can focus the foreground, the background, or both with pan focus.

Like before, it's a bit finicky to use, but much improved overall. Still, you need to have your subject within 20 inches from the lens, and as far back as the background is from it, the better. Generally, the algorithms appear adequate and seem to tell the foreground from the background with relative ease.

Panorama and Surround Shot


Panorama and Surround Shot are quite alike in that they both can capture gigantic scenes and fit them all inside a single file. They're also qutie different, for with Surround Shot you can produce immersive, 360-degree panoramic photos that are a wonder to explore after, at least in my (rather unpopular) opinion.

Starting with the former, I've gotta say that Samsung has got panoramas down cold. Unless you seriously mess up, stitching errors are essentially non-existent, exposure is corrected for as you go through dynamic scenes, and the resolution is incredible — over 18,000 pixels wide and 3,000 pixels high at most (in landscape). A panorama this large usually costs about 20 megs in storage. The only smartphone currently on the market to best this kind of crazy resolutions is the LG G4.


Moving onto Surround Shot — a personal favorite shooting mode of mine, if it isn't clear — I couldn't help but smile after I took the Galaxy S6 out for some 360 action. Not only are the results incredibly good on a tripod, but I was also able to rather easily snap near perfectly-stitched 360s without one, using just my hands. If you haven't used this mode, you'll probably shrug at this, but it wasn't long ago that such wizardry was beyond the skills of even Google's Android team, which was first-to-market with the feature in Android Jelly Bean.


Virtual Shot succeeds Virtual Tour


With the Galaxy S5, Samsung debuted a rather interesting concept for the camera, called Virtual Tour. In essence, it allowed you to create these mini tours of places by stitching a number of pictures taken as you go by, and then adding a transitional effect (for a lack of a better word). The results were... meh, but the idea wasn't all bad, at least if Samsung invested in a hosting site, where they could be published. Otherwise, the resulting files are unreadable on anything else but the Galaxy S5.


Turns out, Samsung decided that ditching Virtual Tour altogether was the more logical choice, and I can't say I disagree completely. Instead of leaving it at that, however, Samsung has instead introduced a new Virtual Shot mode, which is both similar and quite different. Basically, what it does is allow you to take a string of snaps of a subject from all sides, and then preview it in something approaching 360-degree viewer inside the phone. This means that Virtual Shot, like Virtual Tour before it, suffers the same fate, as there's simply no way that I know of to share these files. In other words, it's worthless, and it shouldn't even be available by default — make it an optional download instead.

The worthless trio


The worthless trio is what I like calling three particularly ill-conceived shooting modes available on the Galaxy S6, one of which is available by default. 

Starting with 'Fast motion', this is simply Samsung speak for a time lapse mode, which, in normal speak, typically means the camera shoots for a really long time, but the resulting footage is condensed into just a few short minutes. The effect is obvious — it's a sprint through time. It can be used to produce some pretty incredible footage, if done right.

Unfortunately, Fast motion suffers from one bewildering limitation that essentially render it useless — there's a 25 minute time cap. You read that right, the mode that is supposed to let you capture events that usually take many hours or cycle between several, is limited to just 25 minutes of shooting. As you can imagine, this severely limits the use case scenarios available to the Galaxy S6, and we can't help but wonder why. In any case, resulting clips are just normal clips unless you edit and export them as time lapse video.


But hey, Fast motion is not alone, for there's another, even more perplexing mode called Shot & Sound. There's nothing special about, it does what it says it does. Basically, you take a picture of something, and then the S6 records up to 9 seconds of sound with its microphone, which is then to be replayed over and over again when you check the photo inside the Gallery. Again, no sharing options with this one, even if you were inclined to do so.

Lastly, a new Animated GIF mode has taken over the Galaxy S5's Animated photo, which was actually a clever, occasionally useful mode for some laughs. Before, you could select a small (or lage) portion of the image that would remain live (as in a .GIF), while the rest is stationary. I showed off one amusing example of this (right below), and eventually grew to appreciate the creative spark the mode inspired. With Animated GIF, however, all the S6's camera is doing is take 20 consecutive pictures, and then string them together in a GIF. As you can imagine, with so few frames available at most, the use case scenarios open to this mode are basically non-existent. But hey, at least it comes out as a GIF and can be shared with others.


The rest 


The rest of the shooting modes are fairly self-explanatory, with some small exceptions. We're down to just Sports, Rear-cam selfie, Dual camera, and Food.

Starting with Sports, it's a dedicated mode that overrides the usual automatic instruction set of the camera, and allows for it to shoot at really high shutter speeds, meaning you're more likely freeze a moment than usually, avoiding blur. As for Rear-cam selfie, it simply uses face detection to know when to take a snap, and beeps throughout the entire process to allow you to more easily point it properly. As for Dual camera, again, it's obvious — the Galaxy S6 simply takes a snap with both the front and back camera simultaneously. It has a few effects for the front camera window, and can even format the two images so they're side-by-side, instead of one superimposed over the other.


Finally, Food is a curious and relatively new mode that will help you take more tempting images of your... food. This is achieved with the help of a color temperature slider, which you'd usually want to push high for warmer hues. The mode also allows you to crop the image as you take it, with a choice between the standard, 16:9 aspect ratio, 4:3, and 1:1 (for the Instagram fans). Here's an example comparison:


Image and Video quality


While any camera review should obviously include examples of image and video quality, I'll condense mine and the team's findings over the past few months, as we've already covered this part in our extensive camera comparison series before and in our dedicated Galaxy S6 review. At this point in time, it suffices to say that the Galaxy S6 is the best you can do if you're looking for a modern camera phone.

Indeed, the Galaxy S6 is both a fast camera, and a reliable one. It suffers no consistent issues, and though it's not perfect, it manages to produce near-immaculate stills in daytime, and is one of the best on the market when it comes to challenging, low-light scenarios. The former is the result of very rich detail and faithful color representation, while the latter is made possible in large thanks to the very wide, f/1.9 aperture lens and optical stabilization. That last part ensures that the Galaxy S6 doesn't need to crank up ISO too high and then smear detail with noise reduction techniques, nor does it have to risk producing a blurry shot because it has to expose for too long.



If there was one thing we'd prefer was otherwise, it would have to be the Galaxy S6's 16:9 aspect ratio when shooting with at 16MP. As you can imagine, this can occasionally ruin an otherwise workable composition, as it simply can't capture as much information since the vertical angle of view is narrower, so you either have to move back away from your subject, or settle for a lousy shot. That's scarcely the case at all times, of course, but I definitely prefer a 4:3 sensor (all things being equal). Here's an example of what I'm talking about:


With the details out of the way, I'm including a whole bunch of samples that I captured during my time living with the Galaxy S6. The idea was to capture both images without much thought being given to the process or composition, as is typical of the average user. On the other hand, a select few samples were well thought-out and are intended to exemplify what the 16-megapixel snapper is capable of, including tricky low light scenarios, freeze shots, and highly dynamic compositions where the S6's excellent HDR mode works wonders. These are full-sized samples, without any editing done to them, so load times will depend on your connection.

Take a look.


Moving onto video, I've got to say that optical stabilization is not only a boon to stills quality, for it allows for some relatively shake-free video footage too. Speaking of that, the Galaxy S6 is chock-full with shooting modes, including 4K UHD, QHD (2560x1440), and 1080p at 30 and 60 frames per second. There's also the aforementioned time lapse mode, but also a dedicated slow motion mode that lets you capture 120 frames per second for some smooth clips. Unfortunately, both these are limited to 720p resolution, and it shows.


Closing words


If this break down failed to illustrate my point, let me say it simply: The camera of the Galaxy S6 is among the most versatile currently on the market, and certainly one of the most — if not the most — capable. Sure, its performance is very similar to what's on offer with the Galaxy Note 4, but Samsung's now aging phablet has other disadvantages, such as an inferior interface. It's also noticeably slower to take an image.

The S6's shooter — both on a hardware and software level — is also a good example of what appears to be a new philosophy on Samsung's end. It feels like the company is going for a more streamlined user experience for the average user, while making sure there are still more than enough goodies for the more adventurous, power user crowd. It's a way for Samsung to move into new territory without forgetting its most ardent, core user base, and that's a smart move. 

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Related phones

Galaxy S6
  • Display 5.1" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP / 5 MP front
  • Processor Samsung Exynos 7 Octa, Octa-core, 2100 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 2550 mAh(23h 3G talk time)

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27 Comments

1. Wiencon

Posts: 2278; Member since: Aug 06, 2014

Camera is something that makes me wanna buy S6, but then I remind that lack of Sd slot kills this phone for me, and I'm not gonna throwy 1000$ for 128 GB, I'd rather buy Saygus if it ever comes out.

2. singhkaran9830 unregistered

Get the note 4 instead.

4. Wiencon

Posts: 2278; Member since: Aug 06, 2014

I don't like big phones, in fact even S6 is too big for me, hell even iPhone 6 :P Z3 Compact FTW

27. CoastCity

Posts: 257; Member since: Mar 07, 2014

S6's camera had problems distinguishing between some red hues. Remember this? > http://tinyurl.com/owkurh8 http://tinyurl.com/py2rh33 Can anyone tell me what happened with that, did Samsung fix it?

5. Kruze

Posts: 1285; Member since: Dec 30, 2014

Note 4 sure is a better choice if you need a SD card slot and a cheaper price tag. But I suggest waiting for the Note 5 and if you don't like it, you still can get the Note 4 for a more cheaper price since the price will drop.

10. Shocky unregistered

You could just, I dunno... upload your images or copy them to a computer weekly or monthly? It would take a while to fill 64GB of storage with images and video so I don't see what your problem is to be honest. I swear some people just like to complain for the sake of complaining .

20. Wiencon

Posts: 2278; Member since: Aug 06, 2014

... don't You understand that some people use phone for entertainment? I have 51 gigs of music on my iPhone and I would love to have even more, 128 would be a must for me in my next phone in which camera will be so good that I will shoot many photos and pictures. Not everyone uses Spotify or stupid clouds

11. ph00ny

Posts: 2025; Member since: May 26, 2011

Prior to Android M, I would have disagreed with that assessment but Android M is a game changer in terms of external SD support. Damn you Google for changing your philosophy after so many releases of android

17. nuldolor5x.com unregistered

I have my note 4. I still thank Samsung for making that phone. The s6 is good but too small for me. waiting for the s6 plus and the note 5. may be you should learn how to use big phones and you will discover what you have been missing.

21. waddup121 unregistered

Great stuff

3. ArtSim98

Posts: 3535; Member since: Dec 21, 2012

S6 is so amazing in low light! I wish it had a 4:3 sensor.

18. Japultra

Posts: 133; Member since: May 16, 2014

Set it to 12 mp and it will shoot in 4:3

24. ArtSim98

Posts: 3535; Member since: Dec 21, 2012

And I lose even more FoV LOL

6. TyrionLannister unregistered

I didn't get the point of a 4:3 sensor. A 16:9 sensor can have the same height and more width than a 4:3 one. It depends on the phone. It's not the aspect ratio that tells that more or less is captured, it's the 35 mm equivalent. A 4:3 sensor with 25 mm equivalent like the Z3 can have significantly wider FoV than one with 30+ mm one like, say galaxy S4. I prefer a 16:9 sensor over a 4:3 any day. All my screens are 16:9 and I'd prefer to view it full screen.

7. RoboticEngi

Posts: 1251; Member since: Dec 03, 2014

I also didnt get that point. It totally depends of the composition of the picture. The "example" could easily be made the other way around, so i would it is more of a personal thing.

12. ArtSim98

Posts: 3535; Member since: Dec 21, 2012

Well I don't know a single phone which has a 16:9 sensor with bigger FoV than 4:3.

22. TyrionLannister unregistered

S6 has a higher FoV compared to S4. S6 is 16:9 while S4 is 4:3. It just depends on the 35 mm equivalent which depends on the focal length and the crop factor. It has nothing to do with aspect ratio.

14. Macready

Posts: 1817; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Correct, ultimately it's the focal length that defines vertical and horizontal leeway. The argument that having more vertical area in your picture basically advocates square sensor as being best. The truth is that you would sacrifice horizontal area and *always* have to crop (wait, more MP wasn't better because cropping was rarely used according to some iPhone approach advocates ? :-)) for digital displaying, because monitors and TV's have switched to wide screen format ages ago.

8. itsdeepak4u2000

Posts: 3718; Member since: Nov 03, 2012

Awesome!!!

9. peace247 unregistered

In the blind camera comparison test of PA, s6 with its 16:9 ratio had more content than the 4:3 ratio ip6

13. chenski

Posts: 759; Member since: Mar 22, 2015

Can we have more blind camera tests PA

15. Retrospective1

Posts: 45; Member since: Feb 24, 2015

So is S6 camera better than iPhone 6 and 6+ (I know it is) Find it strange that when they think Apple is better they scream it in every sentence Can't seem to see where they say the iPhone 6/+ is inferior. They'll scream it with the 12mp camera due in September though. Yet Samsung will still be on top due to S6 and Note 5...

16. RoboticEngi

Posts: 1251; Member since: Dec 03, 2014

The funniest thing is when they need to eat their own s**t, when apple is coming with a sensor higher resolution. Then they cant go, its not about resolution anymore, then they will find something else. Just like with displays, first its all about color accuracy, then samsung beat apple with the display on the S6. So now it's about how pixels are made up. Reviewers on this site will always find some new ways/measures to be sure to put the iphone on top. Even here where it is so clear that the S6 is way better, they can only say it is on par with the iphone.....

26. Furbal unregistered

The only thing the 6 plus has is the speed. s6 trumps it in quality (i recent got rid of my 6+, have a s6 and a g4 at the moment, s6 is winning in camera, g4 is winning in user experience so far...)

19. thegeneral7010

Posts: 437; Member since: Dec 10, 2014

i still beleive that note 4 takes better sharper photos than s6 also note 4 video quality is better than s6 but OIS in s6 is better than the one in note 4.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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